While the air is still cold and the dune’s trees are bare, these inconspicuous flowers bloom in the sand. They are useless as far as I know, the hepatica and spring beauty. Deer don’t eat them. The plants don’t need much: given leaf rot and water, voila! they bloom.
I choose to notice the flowers but I don’t have to. As a city-dweller living atop a complex market economy, I am removed from nature by several degrees. My relatives don’t work the land. I’m not an agricultural laborer, a farmer. I don’t manage a forest or a fishery, or hunt for dinner with a bow and arrow. I shop for the bits of nature I need. My essential dependence on nature, the fact that my well-being is tied to that of all creation, is bound up with it in a reciprocal cycle, resembles an underground cable whose exact location is irrelevant—as long as it works.
As long as I find food on the shelves at the grocery store and my home has electricity and running water, as long as the weather forecast comes on and I can get around with the help of a car or bus, I’m fine. As long as I can consume, I can ignore the state of nature. I can feign indifference to the planet’s degradation. Most of us do.
Sometimes I fret about climate change, but so far it hasn’t shaken me out of my rut. The victims of natural disasters (a mounting number of people) have been shaken out of theirs, but I probably won’t change my ways until I must, until the systems supporting my illusory self-sufficiency break down. In other words, until it’s too late, I’ll probably shirk change.
Yet, both the pandemic and the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have powerfully disrupted the global market system, interrupting the normal flow of American society. Suddenly, globalism is untenable and distasteful, too. Supply-chain shortages and rising fuel costs will hasten an existential reckoning that was looming already. Implicit in the disruption is an invitation to change. History inveigles us to work toward a new planetary paradigm, one respectful of Earth’s singular life-giving elements and casting us as stewards of this tough and tender land.